How to respond to critique

This is both easier and harder to nail down, because what can seem perfectly reasonable to one person may look petulant or rude to another. But as with all my diatribes here, I aim to simplify matters so you at least have some baseline from which to proceed. And while this is geared towards online groups, most of it is generally applicable.

1) Thank the person for their time.

Whether you are happy or sad or angry or indifferent to their opinions, you must acknowledge that this fellow human has taken the time to read your work and offer you feedback in an effort to help you improve it. This is Being Polite. It is a vital skill to have in the world of writing and the world at large.

2) Answer any questions that are specifically directed at you.

In certain workshop styles, the person whose stuff is being workshopped sits quietly while everyone else talks, taking notes and absorbing the conversation. Sometimes a reader will ask a question, but it will be rhetorical or directed at anyone else reading it. Sometimes, though, you will be directly asked to clarify something or provide essential information, say about your goals or some back story not included in an excerpt. So, do that.

3) Ask any questions you have about the critique.

If you don’t understand what someone is telling you, it’s not going to help you improve your work, so it’s reasonable to want clarification sometimes. You can also solicit more feedback that is specifically tailored to your own concerns–say, whether a piece of dialogue sounds natural, or a character’s choice seems reasonable. But watch what you ask and how you ask it: there’s a difference between “Was my theme clear and consistent?” and “Didn’t you see the part where I…?”

4) Thank the person again.

Seriously though, manners. Even if you think they are poop from a butt and you’re never going to listen to their advice.

That’s it. That’s all you have to do. Be gracious, be considerate and be open-minded. We’re all digging in the word-mines together, and we’re all dirty and tired, but we all want to help each other strike gold.

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